Soon to roam Calgary streets is a new cab fleet being steered by a familiar face whose tech creation revved up criticism — and a lawsuit — from competitors.
FastCab Calgary Corp. hopes to formally launch Aug. 1 and have a fleet of 50 vehicles running by fall.
That goal, if achieved, would make it the fourth-largest broker in the city behind only Associated Cabs, Checker Yellow Cabs and Mayfair Taxi, the heads of which collectively launched a $1-million legal objection against company head Jeff Doepker in January over a smartphone app he created bearing the same name.
The phone version of FastCab allows customers to link up directly with drivers from various brokers and use GPS to pinpoint the distance between both. Patrons can also offers cash incentives to bump themselves to the front of the waiting list and rate their experience with individual drivers.
But brokers operating in the city have declared the creation a violation of bylaws governing city taxi operation and claimed it poses a safety risk to drivers.
Now, Doepker is moving into the physical taxi business and his drivers will all use the app but also take fares from street-side hails and a typical dispatch system.
“The whole premise behind FastCab Calgary is to make the connection between the customers and the drivers as seamless as possible, which is not currently the case with other taxi companies,” he said Tuesday.
The City of Calgary confirmed Tuesday FastCab Calgary is now a licensed broker.
Doepker’s venture won’t mean more taxis on the street — at least not yet — as city council regulates the number of plates issued to drivers. Instead, FastCab Calgary will pursue vehicle owners currently working with other brokers on the promise of equity in a company Doepker hopes to expand beyond Calgary’s borders someday.
Associated President Roger Richard welcomed word of Doepker’s latest creation, but continued to level criticism against the FastCab app.
“Follow the rules that everybody follows, then be my guest,” Richard said. “Other than that, don’t be a leech.”
Jonathon Campbell, chair of the city’s Taxi Limousine Advisory Committee, said he believes FastCab’s way of doing things will force other brokers to follow suit with their own tech upgrades.
“I think it’s the first step towards the historical dispatch system becoming less and less important,” he said. “What’s more important is going to the social media, the applications and future technology.”
Checker Yellow Cabs owner Kurt Enders has said he’s working on an app for his own fleet and Doepker indicated FastCab Calgary will likely transition away from phone dispatch going forward.
Doepker did echo common concerns among brokers that the city’s licensed fleet of 1,466 cars is not adequate during special events, like the ongoing Calgary Stampede. He doesn’t believe FastCab Calgary’s launch will fix inherent problems he sees in the system but added, “We will use technology, we will use proper economic incentives to ensure that we are picking up as many people as we can pick up.”
Campbell said TLAC will not be recommending to city council an increase in plates at its July meeting — where it typically debates the matter while relying on data concerning fuel prices, average wages and city population — but will monitor the situation closely in the months ahead.
Calgary’s biggest taxi fleet currently belongs to Checker, which dispatches 726 vehicles, while Associated has 601 vehicles. Mayfair Taxi and Delta Cab maintain smaller offerings of 83 and 42 vehicles, respectively.